Screen readers are assistive software programs that helps the visually impaired or blind operate applications, draft documents, send emails, surf the web, and do much more with a computer.
This assistive technology utilizes a voice synthesizer that speaks text and often a braille display that facilitates communication between you and the computer.
The American Foundation for the Blind states, depending on the program you use, commands for a screen reader program can instruct it to:
- Read or spell a word
- Read a line or full screen of text,
- Find a string of text on the screen
- Announce the location of the computer’s cursor or focused item
- Locate text displayed in a certain color
- Read pre-designated parts of the screen on demand
- Read highlighted text
- Identify the active choice in a menu.
- Allow users to utilize the spell checker in a word processor or read the cells of a spreadsheet with a screen reader.
There are numerous screen readers available for the most popular operating systems such as Windows, Mac, and Linux and their prices range from free to over 1,000 dollars.
Choosing the best screen reader for you might be overwhelming since you need to understand each programs capabilities and how they compare to your distinct needs.
But we’re here to help by providing our favorite ‘for purchase’ screen readers and free screen readers.
5 Best Screen Readers for Purchase
If you’re a student, surf the internet a lot, or work from your computer, you’ll probably want to invest in a high-quality screen reader. Some of the best screen readers allow you to do everything on a computer that a person with vision can do such as shop, navigate social media, read e-books, and more.
Here are five of our favorite screen readers that can be purchased and/or downloaded online:
1. Job Access with Speech
Job Access with Speech (JAWS) is one of the most popular screen reading programs and for good reason. At $90 a year, it’s more affordable than some of its competitors and the license allows you to download JAWS onto three computers. In addition, JAWS is compatible with Windows and most refreshable braille displays. We also like JAWS because it allows the user to surf the web, draft emails, and read either by text-to-speech or a refreshable braille display.
2. Dolphin Screen Reader
The Dolphin Screen Reader is one of our other favorite screen readers because it offers a wide range of features. For a one-time fee of $795, you get Dolphin’s elite capabilities such as a customizable human sounding text-to-voice synthesizer that speaks characters as you type or enter commands, and a special cursor that allows you to find graphics and text. We also like that you can choose to use text-to-speech and a braille display simultaneously and it’s compatible with Windows. Moreover, you can use Dolphin on desktops and portable computers.
Cobra is another widely used screen reader program that has a one-time fee ranging from $749 to $849 depending on the version you purchase. Like most screen readers, Cobra is compatible several braille displays which allows you to draft emails, surf the web, and utilize many computer applications. One of the things we particularly love about Cobra’s program is that it comes equipped with a screen magnifier that enlarges images on your computer screen to 32x its original size.
4. System Access
We’ve chosen System Access because of its capabilities and accessibility. They offer several packages complete with features like human-like text-to-speech synthesizers and the ability to draft documents and emails, surf the web, organize your schedule, and more. Unlike several other programs, System Access doesn’t charge you for updates or technical support. System Access offers a variety of purchase options including a flat rate of $400 – $500 or a monthly subscription ranging from $20 – $40.
ZoomText is a screen reading program equipped with a screen magnifier that enlarges the screen up to 60x the original size. This is the best software for the visually impaired who have some vision but need to zoom in on text and images to view them properly. ZoomText also has touch screen capabilities and a voice synthesizer that reads everything on the computer screen. You’ll pay a one-time license fee of $875.
5 Best FREE Screen Readers
For many people, purchasing a screen reader program isn’t an option which is why we’re offering up our opinion on the best free screen readers on the market. The program you choose will depend on what you’re looking for in a screen reader and your operating system.
We’ve included a few Windows based programs, Apple’s VoiceOver which is strictly for Mac, and some Linux based programs which can be used on most computers.
1. Non-visual Desktop Access
Non-Visual Desktop Access uses Windows’ operating system. It’s one of our favorite programs because it allows you to email, shop, navigate social media, and operate many applications including music players and Microsoft programs. You can use a braille display along with the speech synthesizer which is available in numerous languages. More importantly, you can download NVDA onto a USB drive and take it wherever you go.
WebAnywhere is another screen reader software that we love, mainly because you can use it on any computer from any location. WebAnywhere allows you to check emails, read documents, surf the web, and much more. Moreover, users do not need a specific operating system, computer, or browser to use WebAnywhere.
Orca uses the Linux operating system which may be downloaded onto almost any computer, many it one of the most versatile programs available. Not to mention, Orca is compatible with many refreshable braille displays and allows you to operative many of Linux’s applications.
BRLTTY is another screen reader program that uses Linux’s operating system. It operates mostly through a refreshable display. In recent years, BRLTTY has integrated some text-to-speech features.
5. Apple VoiceOver
Apple VoiceOver uses the Mac’s operating system and is built into all of Apple’s tablets, phones, desktops, and laptops. Apple’s screen reading program is one of the best because it will describe images and graphics on the screen, allow you to magnify your screen, explain what is happening in real time, and has some customizable features.
There are many more screen readers available, but these have made our list because they are affordable programs that offer a range of features sure to fit everyone’s needs.
- American Foundation for the Blind: Screen Readers